“We’ve got a lot of skin in this game,”
says Derek Trucks about going all in with his wife Susan
Tedeschi to form the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Both have dismantled
successful solo projects to focus on the 11-piece powerhouse. It’s fronted by Tedeschi’s impassioned
voice, rooted in swampy rhythm
guitar, and complemented by Trucks’ melodic
slide licks that often function more like a
harmony vocal than traditional lead guitar.
Trucks is perhaps the most revered
roots guitarist of his generation, which
is a bit paradoxical, because he’s not a
typical guitar star. He has truckloads of
technique—and his pristine-to-growling
tone is highly coveted—but Trucks doesn’t putz around practicing scales,
plucking patterns, or tweaking gizmos.
The epitome of a natural-born player,
Trucks simply does instinctually what
most other players could not do with
three lifetimes of practice.
“He never practices,” quips Tedeschi,
“unless he’s working on a musical idea.
He has such a tremendous ear that his
listening is like most people’s shedding.”
A dozen years back, Trucks met his
match in Tedeschi—a woman whose emotive
vocals range from a peep to an atomic explosion, and who can also deliver blues
licks that scream, “Mama’s got something to
say!” She cuts a greasy, wah-drenched solo
on “Love Has Something Else to Say” on
the TTB’s debut recording, Revelator [Sony
Masterworks], but Trucks takes the rest of
the leads. Diehard fans of Tedeschi’s swingfor-
the-fences Tele work may feel a bit left
out in the cold, but the warmth coming
from the two playing in tandem compensates
for her lack of solos.
The couple has had to work their schedules
around the Allman Brothers Band.
Trucks has co-piloted the historic dual-lead
guitar vessel alongside stalwart Warren
Haynes for more than a decade, but the
ABB is finally slowing way down, due to the
inevitable health and stamina issues that
come with advancing age. (Gregg Allman
and Warren Haynes launched solo projects
this year.) The Tedeschi Trucks Band is an
amalgamation that includes ABB bassist
Oteil Burbridge, as well as DTB keyboardist/
flutist Kofi Burbridge, and Mike
Mattison on harmony vocals and harp. J.J.
Johnson (John Mayer, Doyle Bramhall II) and Tedeschi band alum Tyler Greenwell
share drumming duties.
A few years ago, Trucks and Tedeschi
decided to build a professional studio
behind their Florida home to facilitate
more time with their two children. The
first fruit from Swamp Raga studios was
Trucks’ Grammy Award-winning Already
Free, which beat out Tedeschi’s Back to the
River for Best Contemporary Blues Album
in 2010. It reflected Trucks’ focus on serving
the song, and a more collective approach
Revelator is even more about the tunes,
and it was crafted by an even larger pool of
talents that includes fellow Clapton band
cohort Doyle Bramhall II and Soulive guitarist
Eric Krasno. While Revelator showcases
Trucks and Tedeschi in a much more
intimate light than ever before, that doesn’t
mean there aren’t gratifying guitar breaks
throughout, or that Trucks has forsaken
his searing bottleneck. In fact, the album’s
intimacy allows the intricacies of Trucks’
singular virtuosity to really shine through.
“The Allman Brothers Band is not going
to last forever,” Trucks stated at the end
of his June 2009 GP feature. “A time will
come in the very near future when I abandon
all that stuff and dig in firmly with my
thing, or the band with my wife. I welcome
That time has clearly arrived.
Why did you decide to form the TTB?
Trucks: After 16 years of doing a solo
project, it was time for a change. There were
some difficult conversations. I walked some
serious miles with the Derek Trucks Band,
but everybody understood the reasoning.
I don’t think it’s the end of the road for
playing with the guys from the DTB individually,
but it probably is for that exact
lineup or that exact thing.
How did playing lots of cover songs previously
as Soul Stew Revival factor in?
Tedeschi: We did Soul Stew for some
summer fun. We were still actively doing
our own records and touring with our own
bands. The real transition was from our
solo bands into this project.
Trucks: We tested the waters of working
together with Soul Stew Revival. Co-leading a band is a little different because each distinct
vision is on the line. I feel it makes
this band much more honest because now
there are no safety nets.
There are posts online about the TTB such
as, “I came to hear Derek wail, and his girl is up
there singing the whole time.” And vice versa.
What’s your response?
Trucks: I don’t worry about it. When
you start a blues band, and then play a
Qawwali tune, people think you’ve lost
your mind. You can go to an Allman Brothers
show right now and hear people shout,
“Where’s Duane? How come there’s only
one Allman onstage?” or “Where’s Dickey
Betts?” I get that stuff all the time. You
just have to be a little stubborn and hardheaded
about what works.
Keeping time-honored tunes such as “Whipping
Post” fresh must be a challenge. Are you an
ABB historian to the degree that you can draw
on numerous live versions, and quote parts from
them during your solos?
Trucks: I can’t recite Duane Allman’s
playing on all the live versions of “Whipping
Post,” but if somebody hands me a
bootleg, I’ll usually listen to it and incorporate
some stuff. Keeping tunes fresh is easy
when you have an unbelievable rhythm section.
Oteil Burbridge has a way of shifting
the tonal center that feels like the earth is
moving underneath you. I approach those
tunes like a jazz musician would approach
a standard. There’s the head and the form,
and then when it’s time for my solo, I’ll
consider the time and key signature and
it’s off to the races.
We might play “Whipping Post” on tour
once every three or four nights, and when
the band is only doing one or two dozen
shows a year, that’s not many takes on
it. You start thinking it might be the last definitive version of that song ever played.
There’s a certain weight and historical significance
to each and every time the band
plays now because no one knows how many
gigs are left. You air it out.
Derek, can you shed some light on the move
you make where your right hand is practically
perpendicular to the fretboard, with your fingers
dangling, that allows you to render superfast
Trucks: I picked that up from watching
Victor Wooten and Oteil Burbridge
doing their superhuman stuff while we
were on the road together, and I worked
on it throughout the tour. At first, I was
incorporating my thumb, but then I realized
I could go faster using only my index
finger. I don’t plan that stuff out ahead of
time. An opportunity will present itself in
the context of a song, and I’ll roll with it.
Derek, what’s the biggest difference about having Susan as your guitar foil rather than
Trucks: It is different, but Susan has a
thing—especially on straight blues—where
she can wipe the floor with anybody.
Tedeschi: Well, that’s nice of him to
say. He can play blues all day long, but that
is my strength as a guitar player. My style
is much more raw than Derek’s. His is so
lucid, beautiful, and smooth.
Trucks: It’s not about technique. She
has an innate ability to cut through the crap and get right to the point. We do a Bobby
Bland blues called “That Did It” a good
ways into the set. She hasn’t really soloed
all night until then, and when she finally
unleashes there’s no reason to play after it.
I love Warren and Jimmy Herring to death,
but I’ll play after those fools [laughs]. With
Sue, I’m not going to friggin’ touch it. She
keeps you on the edge of your seat because
you don’t know if she’s going to make it
through. It’s tightrope walking, but without
fail, she gets there. Amazing.
Tedeschi: I can definitely take you to
that edge where you think you’re going to
fall off the cliff.
It never feels like Derek is going to fall off
Tedeschi: Everybody knows it’s going
to be fine. There’s no threat of danger.
But with me there’s danger [laughs]! But
I don’t fall off the cliff. I just want to get
that thrill in there.
Trucks: I truly believe that she’s as good
as anybody in this generation. There are
a lot of technicians out there, but if you
heard Sue play one of those tightrope-walking
solos, you wouldn’t want to hear any
of the new “it” guys afterwards.
Susan, how have you adjusted your playing
to accommodate Derek?
Tedeschi: I try to support him on guitar
to the best of my ability, which has been
lacking in all the other situations except for
Clapton’s band. When Derek solos, a lot
of people just stop playing, or they don’t
really get behind him and help him grow
the solo. Oteil does an amazing job of that,
so I look to Oteil and Kofi for an indication
of when to start playing, when to start
building, when to hang on one chord, and
when to start changing.
Who are some of your favorite guitarists in
terms of being supportive?
Tedeschi: I like to play funky rhythm
guitar with a wah, and Freddie Stone is
the master, so I’ve been listening to Sly &
the Family Stone and learning from him.
And Willie Nelson doesn’t get the credit he
deserves for his guitar playing. Willie plays
nice melodic lines when he does solo, but
a lot of the time he’s supporting the song
in a very understated, beautiful fashion.
Your level of command is not demonstrated
by a lot of women. Do you feel a certain duty
Tedeschi: I feel a sense of duty to the
music and to young women, because I didn’t
have many female role models growing
up. It took people like Sue Foley and my
old guitar player Adrienne Hayes to show
me that women could rock—not just sing
and play rhythm, but actually rip leads
and improvise with anybody at the drop
of a hat. I give a lot of credit to B.B. King
and Buddy Guy for taking me under their
wings and helping me break out of that box.
Can you school us on some female players
from the classic blues era who really tore it up
Tedeschi: Sister Rosetta Tharpe played ripping leads and killer rhythms while directing
a choir and singing her ass off. Memphis
Minnie would go up against Big Bill
Broonzy and win blues contests with her
solos. There weren’t many female blues
rippers, but those are two good examples.
Have you seen any promising young girls?
Tedeschi: A ten-year-old girl whose
name I can’t recall gave me a DVD. She was
playing leads on AC/DC and Neil Young
tunes. I was so proud of her. I know there
are young girls coming up that are going
to start surfacing. Lots of little girls come
up to me and say that I inspired them to
pick up the guitar.
You both gather your heroes’ autographs
on your guitars. Can you name three you have
Trucks: John Lee Hooker, B.B. King,
and Willie Nelson. Our common heroes are
pretty much across the board. That’s what
drew me to Susan in the first place. I mean,
how many women can you hang with that
revere Buddy Guy and Magic Sam? That’s
one of our biggest connections.
Tedeschi: Muddy Waters made me want
to play. Hearing Magic Sam made go out
and get a guitar.
Trucks: In a way, we share a beautiful
disease. It’s nice to have your partner and your bandmate get off on the same stuff,
and there’s a lot of it. We’ve been incredibly
fortunate to do more than meet our
heroes. Together we’ve recorded with Dave
Brubeck—he’s in his 90s—and Herbie
Hancock. I’m not talking about just sitting
in, but having real conversations and
real musical moments with people like Les
Paul, and John Lee Hooker.
Tedeschi: “The day you stop learning
is the day you’re in the grave,” John Lee
Hooker said to me. He was in his 70s at
the time, and it was great advice because
as soon as you get comfortable and start
cruising, your music loses excitement.
What guitar player made the biggest impact
on both of you?
Trucks: It’s probably B.B., just because
he’s the guy historically. Actually, it’s all
three Kings—Freddie, B.B., and Albert—
and I’d say Eric Clapton is also in that conversation.
Susan grew up a massive Eric
fan, and the Layla and Other Assorted Love
Songs record was huge for me.
Whose playing do you keep a close eye and
Trucks: I love Jack Pearson. He’s an unsung
hero. Jack is a Nashville session player who
actually had the [slide] chair in the Allman
Brothers between Warren and me for about a year. He’s comfortable playing everything from
old Piedmont blues on acoustic—he knows
it up and down—to straight-ahead jazz. Eric
Krasno and Jimmy Herring are close friends,
but also players I respect because of where
they’re coming from, and because they’re
constantly pushing themselves to get better.
What’s at the heart of the Krasno connection?
Trucks: He’s truly about making songs
great. He’s got the mindset of a composer
and a producer. The same thing that connected
me with Doyle connected me with
Krasno. It’s a lot more than guitarslinger BS.
The vision is a lot wider. Kraz is comfortable
in a lot of different genres, where most
guitar players would be fish out of water.
Tedeschi: Derek isn’t focused on guitar
riffs or licks—he’s not a shredder like some
of those guys I played with on the Experience
Hendrix tour. Shredders are not songoriented
in the pure sense, and a lot of them
won’t do a song unless they’ve had time
to figure it all out, which is fine. Classical
musicians are the same way. I studied clarinet
and piano, but once I started playing
guitar, the theory went out the window.
Now I’m more about improvising melodies
in the rhythm of the moment.
What guitars are you rendering your visions
on these days?
Tedeschi: I play a teal 1993 Fender
American Standard Telecaster with a rosewood
neck. The front pickup is wired to
give me the crisp, crystalline tone that
Teles are known for, but without being too
bright or harsh.
Do you use a certain kind of pick or strings
to keep the brightness in check?
Tedeschi: I either use my fingers, or a
heavy Jim Dunlop pick, and I usually use
a standard pack of D’Addario 11s. If the
strings are too thin, I tend to over-bend.
Trucks: My main road guitar is a 2000
Gibson ’61 SG reissue with a stoptail bridge
in place of the vibrato arm. Its loaded with
’57 Classic humbuckers and strung with
DR nickel-plated strings gauged .011, .014.
.017, .026, .036, and .046. I tune it to open
E [E, B, E, G#, B, E, low to high], and my
tech, Bobby Tis, installed different tone
caps and volume tapers. [According to Tis,
George Alessandro of Alessandro High-End Products
makes the custom volume pots and .022uF
old-fashioned wax tone capacitors. Tis also confirmed
that the Derek Trucks Signature SG should
debut in 2011 as a part of Gibson’s 50th Anniversary
Series of SGs. Trucks has been waiting
until Gibson can exactly match the guitar to the
specifications of his own instrument.]
Do you own a vintage ’61?
Trucks: I do, and it has that vintage
magic, but I don’t take it or my other vintage
guitars on the road. I think of those
as the kids’ college funds.
Are you using your mid-’60s Super Reverbs
on the road with the TTB?
Trucks: Yes. I have three or four blackface
Supers, and lately I’ve been playing
the one that works. Overseas touring has
done a number on them. We load a chassis
into one of a few different 4x10 cabinets.
Sometime we use two Webers up top and
two Tone Tubbys on the bottom. Sometimes
we use Pyle Drivers. We use whatever
combination sounds best in the room
that night. It’s been changing so much
because I’ve been blowing an amp a night
for whatever reason.
What rig are you using with the Allman
Brothers these days?
Trucks: I’ve been using a ’63 Fender Tube
Reverb unit in front of a custom 100-watt
Paul Reed Smith amp that’s kind of modeled
on Duane’s 50-watt Marshall—the Fillmore
Marshall. It’s got a lot of headroom, but it always keeps that growl and attack. It
runs pretty hot. I don’t like playing at such a
high volumes, but it’s one of the few amps
that really feels like my Fender feels on a
good night. I have complete control. I can
get it to sing, or breathe, or bark.
[Tis adds that when the fabled amp Duane
Allman used to record The Allman Brothers
Band at Fillmore East “surfaced,” they took
pictures of the electronics and sent them to Paul
Reed Smith, who noticed it was wired like a bass
amp with Ampeg SVT-style tubes, as well as a
few other idiosyncrasies. Smith did his best to
reverse engineer it.]
What’s your main stage amp, Susan?
Tedeschi: I use a blackface Fender Super Reverb Reissue, but the reverb doesn’t always
work, so I have to kick it—crappy Super Reverb
Reissue [laughs]. I used to use old ones until
all my ex-boyfriends took all my amps. I use
an additional 80-watt Victoria 4x10 cabinet
that Buddy Guy gave me back in ’98, when we
were on tour together. It looks like a tweed
Bassman. I use a handwired Moollon Overdrive
if I need to amp it up real quick for a
solo I can hear over the band.
What wah do you use?
Tedeschi: I use a Vox wah because the
timing—the length of the wah—is weird
on other ones. It’s got to sing. But I really
haven’t found the perfect wah yet. I got to
play one of Hendrix’s Vox wahs—as well as
his white Woodstock Strat—when I did the
Experience Hendrix tour. My tech was carrying
it around all excited. Actually, it had
been hot-rodded. That wah had the sound I’m
looking for but can never find. It had more
dynamic range. Push it all the way forward
and it’s real bright, rock it back and it’s all
washed out and warm. I was excited just to
see and touch it.
Dunlop introduced the Derek Trucks Signature
slide this year. What insights can you provide,
and what took you so long to do it?
Trucks: It’s essentially the same large
Dunlop Pyrex slide that I’ve used for ten years, but they are all slightly different in
size. I tried to get mine a little more uniform.
I’m naturally apprehensive about doing
a signature anything. I finally agreed to the
slide because I didn’t have to change anything—
it’s exactly what I use.
Is it designed to match the circumference of
your ring finger?
Trucks: No. I used their standard large
slide for so long, I just adapted to that.
Your finger grew to fit?
Trucks: I think so [laughs]. I’ve been playing
it since I was a kid, so once my finger
filled the slide it stopped growing.
Have you made any major modifications to
your studio since recording Already Free?
Trucks: We asked Jim Scott to produce
Revelator, and he ended up co-producing it
with me because it turns out my studio is
very similar to his. We even use the same
board—a mid-’70s Neve. Our main inadequacy
was the vocal booth. “Where’s Susan
going to sing live with a view of everybody?”
he said. I immediately realized we’d found
Susan’s champion. She hasn’t really had
that on her past few records. She’s a chick
singer—everybody knows better than the
Bobby Tis and I immediately got to work.
I don’t know how building a room inside a room makes both sides feel bigger, but it
suddenly felt like a living, breathing studio.
A lot of the live vocals made the record, and
Susan could also take live guitar solos. Cutting
takes all together pushed everyone to
Did you change your approach to recording
guitar in any significant way?
Trucks: Yes. I realized that a cranked Super
Reverb is great onstage, but you can actually
get bigger guitar sounds by playing quieter
in the studio. We would usually set up two
or three amps—maybe a couple of Fender
Deluxe Reverbs and a Pro Reverb, or some
other combination of old blackface amps.
[Tis says a pair of ’63 Deluxe Reverbs or ’64
Vibroluxes were the primary rhythm tracking
amps, and that late-’60s Princetons were used for
dirty tones. A 1963 Fender Reverb unit was used
in front of all the non-reverb amps.]
If I used the Super at all, it was very little.
I usually run my amp volume around 7 or 8 live, but that sounded small when I listened
back in the control room. If I turned
the gain up in the control room and the amp
down to 3 or 4, there was just enough gain to
make it sing, without sounding overly compressed.
If you let the sound breathe—like
a good singer—it sounds bigger. That was a
major revelation for us both.
What are the curveball guitars and tunings on
Trucks: I used a ’65 Gibson Firebird on
“Learn How to Love” and “Don’t Let Me
Slide,” and I dropped my usual open-E tuning
down a step to D. When we play “Don’t Let
Me Slide” live, I stay in E and alter the way I
play it—but I break out a detuned guitar for
“Learn How to Love.” It sounds great with
less tension on the strings. Actually, “Come See About Me” is also in open D. I played
my old National, which is probably from
the mid ’30s. It’s pretty funky looking with
somewhat of a sunburst finish painted on it.
Tedeschi: Derek and I tracked the acoustic
guitars on “Midnight in Harlem” together.
We sat on two stools facing each other with a
big microphone in the middle. Derek played
a Martin and I played my Tacoma that Chris
Layton and Tommy Shannon [of Stevie Ray
Vaughan & Double Trouble] gave me when
we were on tour together.
How did the majority of the tracking go down?
Trucks: We tracked the band, including
rhythm guitars, in about three weeks, and
then went the extra mile to craft some of
the final vocals and a few guitar solos. The
pressure built on Susan and me because
some tracks sounded so good without the
finished vocal and the guitar solo. You start
thinking that you’d better make a very musical
“Until You Remember” is a tune in 6/8 with
gospel and R&B flavors that builds slowly, and
then climaxes with a slide solo. There’s something
about the way you work your melodies in
F minor blues over the C#maj7 harmonic context
that achieves a certain depth and tension. Can
you shed some light on that?
Trucks: It starts off feeling like an Otis
Redding tune, and then the chorus is a
total theme change. That’s one of my favorite
chordal moves we’ve recorded to date. I
don’t know why that C#maj7 feels so powerful
there, but it does stand out. I put the
solo off until last because I wanted to hear it
first. Over the course of a week, I constructed
that solo in my head. I’m kind of bouncing
between playing through the chord changes
and playing blues in F while trying to think
like a gospel singer. You’re in and out—that’s
the tension—laying out those blue notes. It
was the most daunting solo on the record.
You have a way of ripping into phrases, starting
below and sliding up to the note. How do you
decide where to start, and how do you hit the
destination note so accurately?
Trucks: I do it naturally—like winding up
for a punch. I didn’t even realize what I was
doing until somebody pointed it out to me. I
was surprised when I listened back to a live
tape. I actually tried to stop doing it afterwards,
but it wasn’t comfortable because I
was thinking too much. Some of the ripping
sound comes from scraping over the strings with the thumb of my plucking hand while
How did you develop such spot-on intonation?
Trucks: Obviously there is a physical
element to that, but I believe accurate intonation
is a matter of ear training. You have
to be able to hear microtonal differences in
order to play microtonally. It comes from
listening very intently.
Have you been listening to George Harrison
lately? Your lyrical slide playing on “Don’t Let Me
Slide” and “Ball and Chain” brings him to mind.
Trucks: Not a ton, but I do believe playing
Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” with Clapton
at Crossroads rubbed off on me a bit. I had
to learn one of Harrison’s slide lines, and it
finally struck me how lyrical his playing was
and how much vibe he had.
“Ball and Chain” has an unusual harmonic
structure. It has a very dominant 7th tonality on
the intro/break, a creepy minor verse aesthetic,
and a major vibe in the chorus. How did that
chord progression come together?
Tedeschi: Oliver Wood [King Johnson,
the Wood Brothers] came down and was
kicking around the “Ball and Chain” melody
and chorus. I had been messing with the
verse melody for a week or so before he got there, so it was a collision of two different
ideas—a Frankenstein. The trick was finding
the pre-chorus—a way to get from one idea
to the other—because it doesn’t work if you
just slap the verse and the chorus together.
Trucks: I love playing over the changes on
“Ball and Chain.” I tried maybe ten different
approaches for the solo. At the end of day, it
came down to the feeling and the meaning
of the tune. I’d think about the lyrics, and
try to make the guitar solo represent that.
It’s clever that you choose the major tonality
to support the “Ball and Chain” lyrics, which
actually reveal how lucky you feel to have your
particular ball and chain.
Trucks: I love that about Oliver. His stuff
seems simple on the surface, but there’s
always another layer or two underneath. The
whole songwriting process was fun because
it was so thought out. We asked ourselves,
“If this is what a particular lyric means, what
chord progression best illustrates that idea?”
“Don’t Let Me Slide” is another nice play on
Tedeschi: I had a big hand in that one,
and Derek helped too. Wherever you see our
names in the songwriting credits, Derek was
involved in writing the lyrics, which most people don’t realize. He can sing too. He
has very good pitch. I think that’s why his
intonation is so good on guitar. We bounce
melody and lyrical ideas off each other all
the time. The other songwriter on that track
was Gary Louris.
Trucks: When everybody in the room is
operating at a certain level, it makes everybody
else step up—or leave. The learning
curve was huge at all times, and it made
Susan and me get our thing together without
even knowing it. The songwriting process
made us solidify what this project was
going to be.
What are your thoughts now, having done a
record and significant touring?
Trucks: Playing in the Allman Brothers,
my group, and the Clapton band—the bar is
high. But I feel like this is the first time I’ve
been in a band where it’s all happening now.
You wear your influences on your sleeve, but
you make music about what happened to you,
not a life you didn’t lead. It’s important to
be honest and see through your own lens.
I honestly feel like it’s the first time I’ve
been in a band that I wouldn’t want to play
after on a consistent basis. It doesn’t matter
how good the musicians are or how good the
chemistry is—a band takes time. You’ve got
to feel it out, and you’ve got to gig. We’ve
been road dogging it for the past six months,
and the band has taken a quantum leap forward.
It’s exciting to get offstage at a highly
regarded venue such as the Warfield Theatre
in San Francisco and see that look in
the promoter’s eyes—something’s happening.
It’s what we hoped for, and it’s fun to
see it actually come to pass.